Distracted driver study suggests cell phone, texting restrictions improve safety

Drivers eat, reach for the phone, send text messages or are otherwise distracted about 10 percent of the time, according to a study using video technology and in-vehicle sensors. Risks of distracted driving were greatest for newly licensed teenage drivers, who were substantially more likely than adults to be involved in a crash or near miss while texting or engaging in tasks secondary to driving, according to researchers from the National Institutes of Health and Virginia Tech. Experienced adults were more than twice as likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing a cell phone, but did not have an increased risk while engaging in other tasks secondary to driving. The study of drivers in Washington, D.C., and southwest Virginia appears in the Jan. 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, drivers were filmed whenever their cars were in motion over a period of 12 to 18 months. Sensors recorded acceleration, sudden braking or swerving, drifting from a lane and other data. Whenever a crash or near miss occurred, researchers documented whether the driver was engaged in a distracting activity. Researchers concluded the data supports placing restrictions on texting and cell phone use while driving.